Lee Abraham - The Seasons Turn
The Seasons Turn (24:26), Live For Today (6:51), Harbour Lights (7:11), Say Your Name Aloud (5:00), The Unknown (16:10)
His fifth and latest album sees the ex-Galahad bassist reunited with the core line-up of Christopher Harrison (guitars, backing vocals), Alistair Begg (bass, Chapman Stick), Rob Arnold (piano, keyboards) and Gerald Mulligan (drums). Like his previous albums this also features several familiar prog names including Marc Atkinson (Riversea), Declan Burke (ex. Frost), Mark Colton (Credo), Simon Godfrey (ex. Tinyfish), Martin Orford (ex. IQ, Jadis) and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf). Abraham himself provides guitars, keyboards and backing vocals.
The Seasons Turn opens with the near 25-minute title song, and despite the epic length it seems to fly by, which is always a healthy sign. The opening piano and symphonic backdrop creates an image of softly-falling snow, before giving way to crashing chords and strident guitar. The track is awash with stirring synth breaks and Mellotron samples, capped by a memorable choral hook from the superb voice of Marc Atkinson. The almost obligatory soaring guitar coda (bringing Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn fame to mind) rounds things off in fine fashion, and Mulligan warrants a special mention for his inspired drumming throughout.
Live For Today is a heavier and darker affair, driven by a pumping bass riff, a memorable melody fronted by Dec Burke's expressive vocal, and a particularly gritty guitar solo from Abraham. This would go down a storm on American AOR radio.
Harbour Lights is probably my favourite track. It shape-shifts from a melancholic elegy (another fine performance from Atkinson), into something much grander with string and flute samples and a majestic finale. I should also mention the guitar melody at the midway point, which sounds uncannily like the guitar duet on the Eagles' Hotel California.
Say Your Name Aloud is a surprising departure for Abraham and its singer, the always excellent Mark Colton. It is a mid-tempo ballad with a ridiculously catchy chorus. Had it been the work of a big-name artist, it's the kind of song that would attract plenty of airplay on mainstream radio such as BBC Radio 2 in the UK.
In contrast, the concluding The Unknown wears its prog credentials firmly on its sleeve. It's not metal, but the guitar riffs and drums are powerful, with a welcome moment of tranquillity around the six-minute mark. Whilst it doesn't flow as seamlessly as the title track, it benefits from Simon Godfrey's distinctive vocal, an inspired sax' break from David Vear, and an electrifying guitar solo to play out. It also features what is surely one of the longest fades in recorded history, lasting a full two minutes!
Whilst stylistically The Seasons Turn follows in the footsteps of his previous albums, Abraham never ceases to amaze in his ability to write and produce original material of such excellent quality. He also has a knack of complementing his own musical talents with a fine selection of British musicians and singers, who are all universally excellent throughout.
Take a close look at artist Paul Tippett's cover design by the way. The image of a man on a country lane, flanked on one side by winter snow, and on the other by summer agriculture is remarkably similar in subject to Peter Cross' artwork for Anthony Phillips' 1978 Private Parts and Pieces album.
Geoff Feakes: 8.5 out of 10
Errata Corrige - Siegfried, il drago e altre storie
Viaggio di Saggezza (2:50) ,Del Cavaliere Citadel e del Drago della Foresta di Lucanor (11:25), Siegfried (Leggenda) (8:30), Siegfried (Mito) (4:58), Dal libro di bordo della "Adventure" (9:01)
The music is symphonic in structure, with some lovely layering and moods, and with the vocals sung in Italian. Unfortunately the vocals are not as good as Peter Gabriel but better than Camel's Andy Latimer. Those prog devotees who like big servings of heavier RPI, might comment that this album is too lightweight, but give it a chance!
According to the sleeve notes, almost 40 years after this album was originally released, "those four friends have met up again at the studio, and they have given new life to those five original songs, recording in a way that budget, experience and technical considerations had not permitted at the time." Some excellent professional players have been brought in for the parts originally intended for French horn, oboe, sax, trumpet and cello.
The musical construction of these songs is excellent and the musicianship is to a very high standard. The songs are very melodic in nature, with ample instrumental passages, punctured here and there alongside some fine vocal harmonies and instrumental solos.
The track that really sums up what Errata Corrige is about, is the very enjoyable Del Cavaliere Citadel e del Drago della Foresta di Lucanor. It has a very decent prog length of just over 11 minutes, whilst containing some sympathetic piano that accompanies vocal harmonies, that gives way to some great flute playing and drumming. This song also includes harmonic picking on guitar, with an accompanying Mellotron (and chirping birds in the background!). This section is very like Genesis. With some very nice acoustic guitar work with a folky feel, and with some of the flute work having a very Jethro Tull vibe, this is a very good track to whet your appetite.
Overall this is a very enjoyable album indeed, and one that I will listen to again in the future. Check it out if you can, as this is definitely a very good, 70s-based original take on progressive rock.
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10
Roberto Frattini - La memoria delle maschere
Gioco di parole (5:06), Il minimo vitale (4:49),Doppelganger (6:53), Diorama (4:15), Lo stile dell'abbandono(4:19), Perdo tempo (4:43), a forma migliore (4:12), Broke down engine (6:12), Card shuffling (8:23), Explicit (3:06)
Besides the 12-volt busker blues of Broke Down Engine, this is a purely Italian production, and his native, continental voice prevails but never quite cracks it for me. That could be cultural, but if that permanent reverb was removed, it might also help.
Labelling it psychedelic might begin to sum up the vibe here, with fine guitar playing that is almost Steve Howe-like on the instrumental Diorama, whilst shades of the small acoustic sections that Led Zeppelin provided are also evident. Lo stile dell'abbandono continues this idea with the strumming rhythm, giving way to the bass guitar melody in a very Pagey and Jonesey way.
Gioco di parole starts this selection with its slow, seventies style strummy rock and some with nice bass lines (very similar to the Yardbirds spin-off band Armageddon). Doppelganger contains some good instrumental work and Frattini's foreign-sounding voice works better for me when it's harmonising with itself.
Card shuffling has acid folk pretentions, with distortion and tom toms. It is a discordant jam that turns left at the traffic lights into lead and synth street, and is perhaps the most interesting track here. Explicit calms the pace and ends the recording with its just-before-bed sentiment.
This album is a mixed bag of different pasta shapes, but with a consistent ragu. The album does improve with repeat listening, but there's something about the front room production that slightly niggles. The musicianship, however, is never in doubt, and it would therefore be wrong not to tell people to give it a try. For me, though, it's a case of non del tutto sicuro.
Andrew Halley: 7 out of 10
Poverty's No Crime - Spiral of Fear
The Longest Day (6:49), Spiral of Fear (6:43), Fatamorgana (5:06), A Serious Dream (7:20), The Fifth Element (5:46), The Ballad of '91 (7:10), Dying Hopes (7:05), Wounded (9:51)
This creative pause is also one reason for the fact that Poverty's No Crime has totally escaped my attention so far. Not releasing an album for nine years has not kept the band from keeping its line-up unchanged. Volker Walsemann (guitars and vocals), Marco Ahrens (guitars), Heiko Spaarmann (bass), Jörg Sprinub (keyboards) and Andreas Tegeler (drums) are the musicians performing their music, which can best be described as metal AOR, with decent prog elements.
The music does not demand a great deal of the listener (in a positive way), being very accessible, straightforward and not unduly complex, chiefly owing to the AOR influences here and there. The riffing is catchy, the soloing melodic, and the interaction between guitars and keyboards is well dosed. Breaks and rhythm changes are in place, as one would expect from a band which labels itself prog metal. Production-wise, I think the drumming is a bit too low-key, compared to the other instruments. My ears are not that terrific anymore, after more than 40 years of extensive music listening, but I cannot distinguish any cymbals on this album, for instance. The vocals are not very distinctive either, but do fit the music well. The length of each song provides room for elaboration, without giving the impression of dragging-on unnecessarily.
The opener The Longest Day starts with a Sieges Even-like acoustic guitar, before heavier riffing kicks in, and the song displays a typical prog metal structure with catchy refrains, not unlike Threshold, Vanden Plas and Circus Maximus. It is a good start for the album, whetting the listener's appetite. In my opinion, this is the strongest song on the album.
The title track which follows, is in the same vein, with the piano doing the opening. The mid-tempo Fatamorgana falls-off a bit, whilst A Serious Dream, with the piano bars at the start and the riffing, reminds me of what Foreigner used to do. With The Fifth Element, the only instrumental on the album, we probably have the song which deserves the label "prog metal" most. The rhythms are more complex, and the twists and turns are more present. Overall, the prog-metal elements stay on the moderate side, though.
The Ballad of '91 lives up to its name, because it could have been taken straight off a 90s Scorpions album. Dying Hopes is somewhat unspectacular, whilst the longest track, Wounded, closes the album in a symphonic and epic way, summarising everything that the musical style of Poverty's No Crime is made up of. After repetitive spins, I found that style and the arrangements of the songs are a tad too uniform to keep the tension up throughout an entire album. However that's only a minor point, as after all, listening to music is not about permanent, elevated concentration, but about relaxing and having fun.
This comeback album does not reinvent prog metal, and this band does not explore new opportunities. We are being offered solid, well-played musical handicraft, that is a blueprint of this style, albeit in the "light" version. It is not an absolute must-have, but will appeal to fans wishing to complete their collection with something at the intersection of prog metal and AOR.
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10
The Samurai Of Prog - Lost And Found
CD 1: Preludin (7:38), Along The Way (2:22), Inception (20:02), She (Who Must Be Obeyed) (12:11), Plight Of The Swan (10:33)
CD 2: The Demise (57:18)
CD 2: The Demise (57:18)
The core trio of musicians, Marco Bernard (bass), Kimmo Pörsti (drums and percussion) and Steve Unruh (vocals, violin, flute), are joined my a multitude of guests, including some of the musicians from the original bands whose music is reproduced, plus some significant others. The artwork is by none other than Ed Unitsky, whose work is becoming as synonymous and iconic with 21st century progressive rock releases as Roger Dean was back in the 70s. Mr. Unitsky has, however, really outdone himself this time with a brilliant neo-Victorian pastiche, featuring witty caricatures of the band on the triple, inside panel and a sort of alchemist, who bears vague resemblance to Andy Tillison, amongst his cabinet of curiosities on the outer panels. The detailing is absolutely exquisite, to the extent that on the inner panels artificial cracking of the painting has been included in the folds of the image. It is also fantastic to see that the band have spared no expense, and included inner sleeves to house the CDs, the images on which follow the theme of the cover. Although less than half way through the year, my vote for Artwork of the Year has already been cast.
As for the music, well the concept has largely paid off with aplomb. These epic tracks have been rescued from obscurity and presented in new versions that belie their 40-year age. The opening track is probably the least obscure, and has sort of been previously released, as Preludin appeared on Pavlov's Dog's debut album Pampered Menial. However, whereas the original track barely reached 70 seconds in length, the new version is extended to nearly eight times longer. It has been arranged for the band, like a lot of the album, by the album's principal keyboardist, and member of Swedish prog band Simon Says, Stefan Renström, who sadly, and unexpectedly, died before Lost And Found was completed.
The track itself is a strong instrumental opener, serving as an overture to proceedings, with jaunty violin and flute lines echoed by original Pavlov's Dog guitarist Steve Scorfina. David Myers, famed for arranging Genesis songs for piano, and being a member of The Musical Box contributes the solo grand piano piece Along The Way, which is absolute class, before we head into the first lost epic, Inception. This piece, written by Chip Gremillion, stems from September 1974 and was performed live about five or six times by the band that Chip was a member of at the time, Lift. The song was composed following the release of the band's one and only album Caverns Of Your Brain (which is well worth checking out). Apart from the few live airings to small audiences, it has not been heard since. One really wouldn't know that the song is 42 years old, as it has a very contemporary feel and sound, largely due to the efforts of Unruh and Renström, and is brilliantly realised by the band, assisted by Kamran Alan Shikoh from Glass Hammer on guitar and Chip Gremillion himself on synth solos. Unruh's violin parts on this piece are particularly worthy of note.
Next is a trip back to the band Odyssey. They originated amidst the psychedelic boom of 1969, releasing their only album, Setting Forth, late in that year. She (Who Must Be Obeyed) was not included on that album, but came somewhat later, and has only previously featured on a deluxe reissue of the album in a hastily-recorded live version from 1974. Odyssey keyboard player Tom Doncourt arranged and played Hammond, Mellotron and other keyboards on this new studio version, which also features guitarist Johan Öijen from Brighteye Brison and Jon Davison, the latest singer with Yes.
Unfortunately, Davison's falsetto ruins the track for me, it is not strong enough and is frankly quite annoying. I also disliked his contributions to the last Yes tour I saw, although am not adverse to his work with Glass Hammer. Unruh's, albeit limited, vocal contributions to the piece are much better, and I would have preferred it if he had sung throughout. Davison may be a 'name' but, in this instance, I think the music would have been served better by avoiding the publicity value of having the Yes vocalist on the album.
The final track on disc one has a nice link to the previous track, as it is the previously unreleased Plight Of The Swan by Cathedral, not the metal band but the 70s prog band formed by Doncourt and Fred Callan following the demise of Odyssey. Again featuring Doncourt on arrangements and keyboards, and Öijen on guitar but with Unruh on sole vocals (plus the usual violin and flute as well as the curious 'noise cello'), the song is a delight for fans of the Hammond organ. Perhaps the arrangement could have been a bit tighter, as it does seem to lose it's way a bit. A more concise number might have had more impact.
Disc two is really a lost prog epic, the 57-minute, 30-part (and no, I am not going to name them all!), sword and sorcery tale called The Demise (although it seems the original full song title was The Demise Of The Third King's Empire). This was composed and performed, but never released, by the American band Quill, a late seventies trio of keyboardist Ken DeLoria, bassist/guitarist Keith Christian and drummer/percussionist Jim Sides.
The band's only album, Sursum Corda only saw limited release, and is regarded by some as an undervalued classic, and by others as the closest an American band got to a home-grown ELP. The TSoP arrangement does contain elements of ELP-like intensity, but is by no means a pastiche or homage, maintaining its own identity. With such a long piece there are obviously lots of different elements, but overall the track works very well and is a very enjoyable listen throughout. This is helped by the use of different vocalists for the two main characters; Quill member and co-composer Keith Christian and Unitopia and United Progressive Fraternity member Mark Trueack, as well as Unruh for the non character vocals and Richard Maddocks for the opening narration. Öijen again provides the guitar parts. Änglagård's Linus Kåse adds some fantastically frantic saxophone, and Llorián García, a member of the Asturian rock band Dixebra, contributes electronic bagpipes.
Marco Bernard is to be applauded in utilising his contacts to resurrect these songs from obscurity and bring them to light. The filtering of the songs through the core band members and their associates, particularly Stefan Renström, has added a modern sheen and quality, that one suspects would not have been available to the original bands back in the day. Some of the criticisms of seventies prog could be applied to some of these pieces, in particular The Demise may polarise opinions, but overall this album is a very strong, modern progressive album that ticks a lot of boxes. The quality of the music certainly matches the quality of the packaging!
Mark Hughes: 8.5 out of 10
Votum - Ktonik
Satellite (4:56), Greed (6:23), Spiral (6:19), Blackened Tree (3:45), Simulacra (5:53), Prometheus (6:45), Horizontal (5:01), Vertical (6:17), Last Word (4:24)
Combining a fresh, melodic, yet progressive and heavy sound, akin to other contemporaries such as the aforementioned Katatonia and countrymen Riverside, Votum have managed to create a sound similar, but different, to these other bands. They utilise soundscape-type instrumentation, similar to a lot of Solstafir, but with a more polished sound. However they use it as the actual verse and chorus riffs, rather than as an instrumental focal point or extended bridge, thus creating the atmospheres of post rock, but in more accessible songs. An number of post rock bands I've heard, have long instrumental sections with no vocals, which can occasionally become a bit uneventful, but by using musically similar riffs, with the addition of Bartosz Sobiera's incredible vocal talent, there is an incredible build up of emotion and musical excellence, which stays relevant throughout.
The band expertly utilise these talents to create this soundscape, while still keeping the songs to-the-point and accessible. Think Porcupine Tree meets Solstafir, with an extra splash of melancholy, and you will know what I mean.
Vertical is another favourite track. It is a fine blend of prog, rock and metal; sounds and atmosphere; sorrow and anger. Melancholic and thoughtful at the start, with the soaring, heartfelt vocals, it then morphs into an outro to get the head bobbing and fist pumping. This is then followed by the slow, almost mournful final track, Last Word. A brilliant end to a brilliant album.
Musically Votum are dark and brooding, sometimes melancholic, sometimes angry, but always good. This is sure to be a modern prog classic. While not necessarily breaking new ground as such, the sound is a welcome break from a lot of bands who suffer from the "Kscope" sound of modern prog, and showcases Poland's talent for creating fantastic bands such as Riverside and Coma.
I would recommend this album to any fan of Riverside, Katatonia, Porcupine Tree or Coma.
Calum Gibson: 8.5 out of 10
Waken Eyes - Exodus
Cognition (4:23), Aberration (8:24), Deafening Thoughts (6:50), Back To Life (6:08), Palisades (7:25), Cornerstone Away (7:09), Still Life (4:43), Arise (8:00), Across The Horizon (8:06), Exodus (19:33)
The album kicks off with a minimalist piece, relying heavily on the keyboard and guitar work from Tom Frelek (Third Dynasty). He builds the atmosphere expertly, before seamslessly moving into a relaxed vice, with the soothing vocals of Henrik Båth (Darkwater, Shadrane).
The sound of the album as a whole is generally the traditional progressive rock/metal sound. A lot of odd chords, time and tempo changes are used frequently. All the musicians show incredible talent, but those who know Marco Minneman and who he tends to play with, will have guessed that anyway. The album never goes too over-the-top, but at no point is it generic. The perfect level of musicianship is shown by everyone at all times.
The rhythm section of this band is a combination of the unstoppable power of both Minneman (drums) and LePond (bass). They never let up at all during the album, providing an incredible backdrop for Frelek to show his talent on the guitar and keyboards, and to allow for Båth to shine through with his voice.
Two of the tracks that stand out for me are Back To Life and Palisades. Back To Life is the first ballad-type track, I imagine to allow people to recover after the previous 15 minutes of incredible prog metal. It's melancholic, well executed and has the whole epic power ballad feel, complete with a blistering solo that doesn't detract from the feeling of the song at all. Palisades however is just an incredible out-and-out fast, punchy and catchy prog metal track. However, I am sure this time tomorrow I will have two different tracks as my favourites!
The album isn't as heavy as some progressive metal bands, sitting more on the accessible side of the genre/style. However, it still maintains all the elements that make the genre great: fantastic musicians, soaring vocals and wonderful atmospheres. I would heartily recommend this for fans of Dream Theater, Kamelot, Symphony X or Voyager
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10